The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is releasing three new funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) to develop approaches to engage researchers, especially from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical sciences, and prepare them to thrive in NIH-funded research careers.
The funding through the Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program will establish a national consortium to develop, implement and evaluate approaches to encourage individuals to start and stay in biomedical research careers.
Students from underrepresented backgrounds enter early biomedical research training in numbers that reflect the general population but are more likely to exit the training pathways. Substantial research has been conducted to determine the reasons for this and to test interventions on small scales. The new FOAs provide the opportunity for transformation of the biomedical research workforce pipeline through institution-wide, and eventually nationwide, implementation of successful training and mentoring strategies.
“There is a compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce,” said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., NIH director. “A lack of diversity jeopardizes our ability to carry out the NIH mission because innovation and problem solving require diverse perspectives. The future of biomedical research rests on engaging highly talented researchers from all groups and preparing them to be successful in the NIH-funded workforce.”
The diversity program is backed by the NIH Common Fund, which supports programs with the potential to dramatically affect biomedical research by achieving a set of high impact goals within a defined time frame. The FOAs will establish a consortium of awardees from three integrated initiatives. Awardees will collectively determine hallmarks of success, including core competencies, at each phase of the biomedical career pathway and develop complementary training and mentoring approaches to enable young scientists to meet these hallmarks. Awardees also will test the efficacy of these approaches, and provide flexibility to adjust approaches during the course of the program to maximize impact. The consortium will disseminate lessons learned, so effective approaches can be adopted by other institutions across the nation.
The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) will be a nationwide network of mentors and mentees spanning all disciplines relevant to the NIH mission. The NRMN will address the critical need for increased access to high quality research mentorship and networking opportunities by establishing an interconnected set of skilled mentors linked to mentees across the country. NRMN also will develop best practices for mentoring, provide training opportunities for mentors and provide professional opportunities for mentees. The goals for mentoring at each career phase will align with the hallmarks of success to be established by the consortium.
Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) will provide support for relatively under-resourced institutions with high concentrations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to implement transformative approaches to the training of students to undertake biomedical and behavioral research. These approaches will emphasize research opportunities for students, along with additional innovative activities, to enable students to achieve the hallmarks of success at each phase. Awardee institutions will be encouraged to partner with research-intensive institutions to expand research opportunities for their students, to foster networking and to enrich the training experiences available to students at both institutions.
The Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC) will coordinate consortium-wide activities and assess efficacy of the training and mentoring approaches developed by the BUILD and NRMN awardees. The CEC will develop both short- and long-term measures of efficacy, allowing the consortium to continuously gather data and respond accordingly. The CEC also will be the focal point for dissemination, sharing consortium progress and lessons learned with the broader biomedical research training and mentoring communities.
“Workforce diversity and inclusion are imperative to optimizing the strength of the NIH research enterprise,” said Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D, M.D., theacting NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity and director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. “Indeed, diversity now is well-understood to be fundamental to innovation. These initiatives will strengthen the NIH research enterprise through their efforts to establish more effective ways to engage and train a more diverse and inclusive body of researchers and future scientific leaders.”
It is anticipated the program will fund up to 10 BUILD primary institutions, one NRMN and one CEC, contingent upon the availability of funds and receipt of a sufficient number of meritorious applications. Applications for the FOAs are due March 18, with awards to be announced in September.
“We look forward to supporting institutions in the development of novel and transformative approaches to student engagement, training, and mentoring,” said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the NIH Common Fund. “Successful approaches will be widely disseminated, so that institutions beyond those directly supported by the program may adopt and implement the most effective strategies. We anticipate that this dissemination and widespread adoption will have a broad and sustained impact on scientists from all backgrounds.”
In fall 2013, the NIH issued six-month planning grant awards for the BUILD and NRMN initiatives. Planning grant awardees are assessing research resources and training programs already in place at their institutions and formulating plans to extend beyond those resources. Additionally, the planning grants are supporting capacity-building and infrastructure needs assessments. More than $2.7 million was given to 15 BUILD planning grant awardees and more than $1.3 million was given to seven NRMN planning grant awardees.
The Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program is funded through the NIH Common Fund, and managed by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities in partnership with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH Institute or Center could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research.